Chances are, even the best preparedness efforts by world class companies didn’t include a plan for this level of uncertainty we’re all experiencing with COVID-19. It has, in many ways, been a level-setting moment that has put the auto industry on its heels.

The situation isn’t pretty; there’s no spinning the reality of widespread furloughs, suspended manufacturing, pay cuts and showroom closures. But we will recover and this pandemic will end, and on the other side of this is normalcy and a familiarity to our old way of life.

But it will be a “new” normal —one that tries to figure out social distancing, consumer confidence in spending, vehicle pricing strategies and inventory management.

So, what can dealers do now to prepare for the new unknowns of the market?

Get your online house in order

I’m not talking about the digital marketing approach and online shopper journey we’ve all been talking about for years. This is different. Here’s why.

The pandemic may have closed physical storefronts, but it opened up an entirely new set of opportunities for retailers online — forging new ways to compete, deliver goods and services, attract new customers and enter new market segments.

But if dealers aren’t on top of their online marketing and branding strategy now, they could end up on the second page of Google search, which everyone knows is the best place to bury a body.

Use this time in isolation to advance your online game so you’re not caught off guard trying to catch up when consumers come clicking on virtual showroom doors.

  1. Create a valuable virtual sales experience that goes beyond being a Band-Aid during COVID closure. Your website is the gateway to brand loyalty, and ensure your sales team is committed to delivering this experience as much digitally as in person. The main objective needs to evolve from simply getting a shopper in the store- the face to face exchange is no longer the brass ring. Revisit and refresh your processes — sales, F&I, service — and optimize them for online efficiency and accuracy.
  1. The digital shopping experience isn’t just for a tech-savvy audience anymore. Everyone, across multiple generations, has adapted to doing everything online so the target online audience is literally everyone on your radar. This is a great time to revisit how well you are representing your target customer in your branding and messaging.
  1. Consumers are getting accustomed to retailers’ flexibility and they aren’t going to want to let go of that. Just because the pandemic subsides, the demands for the continuation of these at-home delivery and online services will strengthen. Optimize your business to meet the inevitably evolving needs of your customers. Because if you don’t…
  1. … your competitor will. The expansion of goods and services is a fresh competitive edge and is going to be leveraged drastically. In fact, those offerings, or lack thereof, will likely make or break companies going forward. New competitors are creeping into your territory — both physically and digitally — because they are realizing they can deliver their goods and services in new ways and to new regions. Think ahead, think big, and think creatively about maintaining and growing your customer base to meet the evolving needs of the market.
  1. Watch out for imposters. Other businesses lure online customers by mimicking branding, so it is critical your site pops up as the first destination in the search journey and instantly signals you’re an authorized dealer. Keep your SEO strategy fresh and sharp, your domain name consistent and straightforward, and get creative with your goods and service offerings.

Showrooms will reopen, but the online researching, shopping and buying habits consumers have fiercely adopted won’t dissolve just because stay-at-home mandates do. In fact, your online presence is now arguably just as important as your physical presence, perhaps even more so going forward. The tactics that served you well in the past won’t be sufficient in tomorrow’s new normal.

Andy Macleay is the co-founder of .dealer Domains.